Category Archives: Book Reviews

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary Vol. 003

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 3 of the Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

After Yuuki and the rest of the Sleeping Knights shared a victory over the Floor Boss with Asuna and left their names on the Monument of Swordsmen, Yuuki mysteriously disappears. When Asuna attempts to message her, she finds that she’s offline. Desperate to see her once more, she turns to Kirito, who happens to know exactly where she is and gives her an address. But she may come to regret indulging her curiosity…

The Review

While the setting switches regularly between the virtual and real world in the final volume of Mother’s Rosary, the challenges confronting our characters are all real life ones. As it turns out, the Sleeping Knights’ motivation for wanting their names inscribed on the Monument of Swordsmen is rooted in the common fate they suffer in the real world. Namely, they are all terminally ill. Three members of their guild have died already. Of those remaining, the one with the least time left is Yuuki.

There’s nothing like an incurable disease to create heartbreak, and the narrative does an effective job at conveying Asuna’s shock and devastation when she tracks Yuuki down in the real world. As if Yuuki’s current situation wasn’t bad enough, the story wrenches the heartstrings further with the pitiful circumstances of Yuuki’s family and Yuuki’s attempt to protect Asuna from grief.

Interwoven into and flowing out of Yuuki’s personal tragedy is the concept of VR technology as a medical device. Until now, the purpose of dives has been entertainment, but when Yuuki’s physician explains the Medicuboid’s current and potential uses, it opens a whole new facet of VR. And when Kirito’s pet project enables Yuuki to “come to school,” it’s an intriguing paradigm shift. Rather than serving as an escape from the real world, Kirito’s interactive probe allows Yuuki a viable way to experience the real world.

With Yuuki living on borrowed time, it, of course, leads to Yuuki and Asuna talking about life and purpose. These conversations bring about the ultimate resolution to the conflict between Asuna and her mother. Given the heartless depiction of Asuna’s mom in the prior volumes, her suddenly having a heart-to-heart moment with Asuna is a bit much to swallow. But while her acceptance of Asuna’s decision is too convenient to be true, Asuna’s discussions with Siune and Yuuki about suffering and meaning feel genuine.

For those familiar with the anime, this volume contains pretty much the same content as the corresponding episodes. However, the pacing differs, most notably with the depiction of Yuuki’s last three months. Whereas the anime glosses over these events in a quick montage, the manga takes more time with them, devoting a short chapter to this time period.

Extras include embedded Background Guide notes, the title page in color, afterword manga, and special comment from Reki Kawahara.

In Summary

The Mother’s Rosary arc reaches its conclusion. Between the revelation of Yuuki’s illness and her final moments, this volume is a real tearjerker. While the portrayal of Yuuki and Asuna’s relationship is strong throughout, the ultimate conclusion to Asuna’s conflict with her mother is less believable. Character arcs aside, this series wraps up with an interesting angle on how the same technology used for Kayaba’s “Death Game” offers hope for those facing death.

First published at the Fandom Post.



Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 3

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 3. (For my reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Sometimes kind, sometimes strict, Heine is prepared to employ any means necessary to draw forth his princeling students’ potential. But seriously, what’s a royal tutor got to do to enjoy a simple, quiet day off?? With royal engagements, reluctant readers, and secret lives seemingly everywhere he turns, Heine may need to up his game if this kingdom is to have any hope for the future at all!

The Review

For those familiar with the anime, half of Volume 3 is material that was not included in the TV series. If you are a fan of Prince Kai, you will want to pick up this volume for Chapter 13 alone. Up till now, the only females in the bishounen-heavy cast have been the princes’ grandmother and 3-year-old sister. Now we get one more: Beatrix Von Lothringen, a cousin—and Kai’s betrothed.

She’s a bit of a surprise since none of the royals have mentioned anything about engagements, but it does make sense for princes to have arranged marriages. Beatrix, though, is more than just a fiancée. Having been raised with the princes, she treats them like an older sister, and Kai’s sharp glance doesn’t intimidate her at all. Rather, she feels affection for Kai and somewhat inadequate as a woman (did I mention she cross-dresses?). Chapter 13 is her attempt at a romantic picnic with Kai, but her efforts get thwarted one after another in comic fashion. It doesn’t help that fluff-obsessed Kai isn’t exactly the sort to drop sweet nothings into a lady’s ear. However, the chapter does conclude with a swoon-worthy illustration of the two that made my heart skip a beat.

The story then shifts to a chapter about Leonhard’s woeful academics, which to be honest is starting to get old, before returning to the subject of marriage. This time the focus is teensy sister Adele, who’s just had the realization she’s to be sent to a foreign land to be married one day. A pretend engagement with Heine results, and in addition to the brothers’ varied reactions at the thought of their tutor as brother in-law, the mangaka serves up adorable pictures of Adele and Heine. Because even though Heine’s an adult, he still looks like a kid, and visually speaking, Adele matches up with him pretty well. We also get the first mention of the royal brood’s mother in this chapter. However, it remains unclear where Mom is and what happened to her.

The narrative then matches up with the anime once again with Heine chancing upon Licht waiting tables at Cafe Mitter Meyer. While the idea of Licht having a part-time job seems a flimsy excuse for the mangaka to draw bishounen in waiter uniforms (though admittedly, they look quite dashing), it does add depth to our playboy character. More importantly, we get the introduction of “The Count.” Until now, the princes haven’t had enemies other than their own personality quirks, but the addition of an outside adversary should put more backbone to the plot.

Extras include comics printed on the inside of the back cover flap; a two-page bonus manga; first page printed in color; and translation notes.

In Summary

A new character, and a female one at that! Prince Kai’s boyish fiancee joins the cast and provides a bit of random background on the royal family. The betrothal fun continues with a pretend engagement between Heine and Princess Adele before the narrative dives into a longer arc about Licht. While most of the story just seems to be an excuse to have Licht and Viktor in a cafe setting, it does introduce a new sinister element to the plot with the meddling of the Count.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Love Story!! Vol. 13

Takeo Goda, the male lead for Viz Media’s  My Love Story!!  is quite unusual. Bishonen tend to dominate the cast of shojo manga, but Takeo’s looks are about as far from a stereotypical pretty boy as you can get. Still, he possesses tremendous appeal in this hilarious romantic comedy. The final volume has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Yamato initially accepts that she has to move to Spain with her family, but her feelings for Takeo are so strong that she runs away from home! Takeo follows her with the intention of bringing her back, but what will he do when he faces a heartbroken Yamato? And just how will Takeo’s love story end?

The Review

Volume 13 is the last volume in the series, and in it, Takeo and Yamato face their greatest challenge yet: the long distance relationship! The previous volume dropped the bombshell announcement that the Yamato family was moving abroad, and I anticipated some convoluted plot twist that would allow our main couple to stay together. Well, the impulse trip to Okinawa concludes with warm and fuzzy moments but no miracle solution. And so… Yamato leaves Takeo for Spain.

Fortunately for Takeo, he gets a lot of moral support in her absence. Many series finales include a kind of curtain call with the entire cast, and in the last three chapters, several characters we haven’t seen in a while pop up to give Takeo encouragement. Some of these encounters are more forced than others, like Yukika’s gift bag to Takeo, but they do get the message across that everyone, even former rivals in love, want Takeo and Yamato to stay together. As usual, the lion’s share of support comes from Suna. Thus, we get a bunch more best friend bonding scenes with the two guys. Two scenes in particular (the overnight stay at the hostel and the ring purchase) had me laughing out loud, and I dearly wish I could see them animated.

The final arc, with Takeo and Yamato’s relationship breaking under the strain of distance, could be seen coming from a mile away. And while it is sweet to see Takeo pondering Yamato’s importance in his life and hilarious to see the Takeo effect in a foreign country, there’s never any real doubt that the two will reunite. However, they certainly patch things up in the flashiest way possible, paving the way for a feel-good ending that neatly wraps up the series.

Extras include story thus far and final notes from the creators.

In Summary

My Love Story!! reaches its happy conclusion! While the unique cast has never failed to earn laughs (especially those awkward Suna/Takeo moments), the story arcs have been starting to lack originality. As such,Volume 13 is a good place for the creators to call it quits, what with our characters graduating and Takeo’s love life seemingly assured for all time.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #11

I became an instant fan of Naoki Urasawa in 2004 when I saw the Monster anime. Psychological thrillers are definitely NOT my cup of tea, but he had me hooked with his combination of realistic artwork and gripping plot. As such, I was thrilled when Viz Media decided to release a translation of an earlier Urasawa action/adventure: Master Keaton. Read on for the review of Volume 11. (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

After the Cold War draws a curtain over Europe and the economic bubble bursts in Japan during the late twentieth century, ace insurance investigator Taichi Hiraga Keaton brings his skills into full play… No matter how difficult the case, Keaton will not miss a clue!

The Review

The quality of the Master Keaton stories has gone up and down since the early volumes, and in Volume 11, it’s more down than up. The one solid story is the three-part “Made in Japan.” Daughter Yuriko, now 17, reappears as she and her dad meet up for quality time in Scotland—at an archeological tour. The story combines several things: their parent-child relationship, Keaton’s unfulfilled dreams of being an archaeologist, his SAS skills, and Keaton’s dangerous career impacting his family. This last element is a situation we haven’t encountered before, and that makes it more gripping than the usual scenarios where Keaton is a passerby.

Domestic drama figures largely in the other stories, but Keaton isn’t personally involved so it’s a bit like watching episodes of unrelated soap operas. In “The Final Challenge,” an old schoolmate asks Keaton to track the whereabouts of another schoolmate, but the story is really about the tangled family situation the two men created. “Lost Beyond the Wall” is partly a commentary on the former East Germany after reunification, but it’s mostly Keaton driving a man around as he expresses his regret about how he ruined his family. “Love from the Underworld” begins as a mystery but quickly turns into a tale of another broken family, and when Keaton reveals the trick behind the” ghost,” you have to wonder why anyone was fooled. Wacky Mrs. Barnum shows up again in “Return of the Super Sleuth?!” and as in her previous appearance, the murder she investigates with Keaton is just a platform for her to nag about how he doesn’t understand romance and women. Keaton doesn’t have a part at all in “Two Fathers,” which features his dad instead, but that story is really about two brothers and which fathered the child of the woman both men loved.

While the two-part “Pact on Ben Tan Mountain” also contains an extramarital affair, the greed and grudge motivating the murders lend it additional substance. Unfortunately, there is too much coincidence in the chain of events to make it a satisfying read, especially the way Malcolm proposes the murder pact but Jackson is the one to take advantage of it. In addition, there are so many characters crammed into the story that I had trouble keeping all the names and connections straight.

Extras include four pages in color, four pages partly in color, and a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

Spunky young Yuriko joins her father for bonding time. While their archaeology tour tuned kidnapping makes for an exciting episode, the same can’t be said for the other stories. They’re not so much about intrigue or Keaton’s unique skills as they are about muddled domestic situations, making this volume feel more like a soap opera than a collection of mysteries.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #18

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has a unique bent. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released the 18th(!) volume of this novel series, and you can read on for the review. (You can also click here for my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases).

Back Cover Blurb

The long-awaited continuation of the tale of Holo the Wise Wolf and the merchant Lawrence! Over ten years after Holo and Lawrence open “Bathhouse Spice and Wolf” in Nyohhira, the two climb up the mountain in order to help at the festival in Sverner. But Lawrence has an additional objective: to find more information about a new hot spring town near Nyohhira.

The Review

This eighteenth volume in the Spice and Wolf light novel series might have come as a surprise to you. It was certainly a surprise to me. After all, Hasekura-sensei wrote in Volume 17 that he was moving on to a new series. However, as he explains in the Volume 18 afterword, stuff happened, thus fans get another volume about Holo and Lawrence along with an upcoming spinoff novel about their daughter Myuri and Col. While Spice and Wolf: Spring Log provides a brief glimpse of the youngsters and their relationship in the 16-page story Parchment and Graffiti, the book focuses primarily on Holo and Lawrence.

As indicated by the subtitle “Spring Log,” the book does not relate a single grand adventure, but three separate events that take place in the same spring. Over a decade has passed since Holo and Lawrence met, and they are now residents in the hot springs town of Nyohhira. They also happen to be empty-nesters as their teenage daughter has followed Col to an adventure. While Lawrence is no longer a merchant, running a bathhouse also requires business sense, and The Margins of a Journey introduces his new line of work and the concerns that arise when rumors of the construction of a rival hot springs village reach his ears. The scheme Lawrence cooks up to keep customers seems just a pretext for a misleading opening scene, but the rest of the story does a nice job of bringing readers up to speed with their lives. For those who enjoyed Holo’s baiting and carefree attitude, there’s still plenty of that, but Lawrence has matured over years of marriage and is much better at handling it.

The next story Golden Memories moves us from business concerns to a mini mystery. Lawrence and Holo haven’t left the northlands in years, but travelers from all over visit their town. Thus, they play host to a peculiar guest who has the entire town scratching their heads. But once Lawrence figures out the man’s purpose for coming to Nyohhira, that brings up an entirely different puzzle, and Hasekura-sensei does an excellent job blending the mystery with melancholy and fun.

Melancholy and fun also figure into Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf. The longest work in the collection, it might have you running to The Coin of the Sun volumes for a refresher of the connections between Lesko, Svernel, the Debau Company, and the non-humans Millike and Hilde. Lawrence and Holo leave home to take care of business on behalf of Nyohhira at Svernel’s spring festival. As in their early adventures, Holo knows more about what’s happening, and Lawrence winds up playing the fool as a result. Lawrence’s participation in Svernel’s Festival of the Dead also makes for a boisterously entertaining scene.

Then the tone shifts with the introduction of new characters Selim and Aram. They have a quandary on their hands, but to Holo and Lawrence, they are an unwelcome reminder that Lawrence will die long before Holo does. Indeed, the narrative mentions over and over that Lawrence isn’t as hale as he used to be while Holo remains physically unchanged. Holo isn’t one to wax sentimental, but for those dying to hear Holo express her affections toward Lawrence, this is your chance.

The remainder of Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf has Lawrence figuring out a solution that will solve everyone’s problems. This is the weakest element of the story. I’m still unclear on exactly how Selim and Aram got their paws on their permit, and Holo and Lawrence’s brainstorming drags on while the plan’s execution rushes past. Still, our pair attain a satisfactory happy ending for themselves and others.

This light novel includes the first four pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, bonus art from Jyuu Ayakura and Keito Koume, and afterword.

In Summary

Lawrence and Holo are back! The four stories in this volume do an excellent job of showing how years of marriage have changed them as well as incorporating the elements of intrigue, fun, and money-making that characterized the series. Plus, we get a glimpse of the future in their daughter Myuri’s antics with Col. Spice and Wolf fans definitely need to pick this one up!

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 2

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 2. (For my reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

When the king returns to court, it’s time for the princes to prove their mettle. But not everyone’s been exactly keeping up with Heine’s lessons… (Hint: It’s the prince who only scored a one on his assessment test…and that was for signing his name!) Can Heine really whip these boys into shape well enough to rule a country?

The Review

Volume 1 presented our princely cast and their tutor, and now that the characters have been introduced, lessons can begin in earnest, starting with a field trip into town. That might seem like a strange place to begin, until we learn that only resident playboy Licht has any common sense about how to behave around commoners. Haughty and academically-challenged Leonhard easily lends himself to be made the fool, but all the princes provide something different to laugh at during their outing. In addition to the setting highlighting their foibles, they get to wear something other than their usual uniform-like garb, and readers get a sense of the type of city Weinner is.

Next, we meet the man who literally rules the place. There’s been no mention or sign of a queen (other than the granny Queen Mother), but there’s definitely a king. Given that 17-year old Kai is the second eldest son, I expected the king to be past his prime. Instead, he is a longhaired bishounen who could easily pass for one of his sons. His personality also veers more towards sentimental than kingly. Even so, he’s serious when he must be, and he and Heine share a past that they’re keeping from the princes.

Meanwhile, the princes are surprisingly eager to make their father proud. Given that they’ve driven so many tutors from the palace, I thought they would be more troublesome, but when the king points out areas of improvement, the princes immediately get to work on it. In addition, although the princes are rivals for the throne, they are more than willing to help each other out. So when the king threatens to strip Leonhard of his claim to the throne because of his awful test score, his brothers try to help him learn. When Kai expresses a desire to interact better with people, the other princes offer suggestions and encouragement. Thus, the story includes jokes about Leonhard’s epic stupidity and comic visuals of Kai’s attempts to be approachable, but backstabbing doesn’t play a part. As exemplified in Chapter 12 (the only chapter in this volume with no equivalent in the anime), the princes are brothers first and deeply care for one another’s well-being.

By the way, the quality of the illustrations remains top notch, with the style switching between elegant and chibi as the scene demands.

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover flaps; first page printed in color; a note from the creator; and translation notes.

In Summary

Despite the appearance of the king and talk of rivalry and succession, the mood remains light and fun with the princes going to town, then striving to improve themselves as candidates for the throne. Though Leonhard tends to draw the spotlight with his outspoken personality and staggering stupidity, Akai-sensei does a good job of helping us to get to know all the princes. As of yet, there’s no overarching goal other than Heine whipping them into shape, but for the moment, that’s entertaining enough.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 6

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 6. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back Cover Blurb

Handa-kun and company have survived the class trip, but now the culture festival is right on top of them! Will Handa get to contribute to the festival preparations, or will the culture festival be his biggest high school frustration yet?

The Review

The previous volume mentioned that this would be the final volume in the series. As it turns out, Volume 6 is the penultimate, not the final volume. The Handa-kun News at the end of the book explains that, due to popular demand, a seventh volume with an extra arc will be released as the last in the series. However, the structure of Volume 6 is very much that of a finale.

A single arc focusing on the school’s annual cultural festival comprises this book. Three chapters are about the festival preparations, two chapters about the event itself, and one about the festival after-party. Because the entire school is involved in preparations and the festival is an open event, it provides the perfect setting to revisit the impact HND-syndrome has had on the cast, even the White Shirts from the rival school. Thus, seemingly everyone, from fortuneteller Tsugumi to the carnivore girls, gets a cameo, like in so many manga and anime finales.

The setting also lends itself to some comical visuals, ranging from various Handa themed games to the fake Handa’s Handa Clone Army. In addition, we get the novelty of seeing Handa’s class in period crossdress for their drama cafe.

Unfortunately, the plot is lackluster. Yoshino-sensei has relied heavily on Handa and his fans misinterpreting one another throughout the series for laughs, and getting more of the same at this point is rather tiresome. The drama cafe play is an inane interpretation of Romeo and Juliet with a badly selected cast, which is a situation that has been done to death in anime/manga. The introduction of the “black suits” makes things interesting for a while, but then it just gets confusing when they reveal why they’ve come to the festival.

As for the conclusion to the arc, Kawafuji’s remorse and efforts to rectify the situation are believable. The final resolution is not. After several volumes of reinforcing Handa’s paranoia of his classmates, the sudden collapse of the “Handa wall” feels like cheating.

Extras include the title illustration in color, bonus manga, translation notes, and an installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

It’s not the final volume of Handa-kun, but it’s definitely written like one. The school festival provides a recap of Handa’s impact on his adorning fans. However, many gags are just variations of jokes we’ve seen before. A seventh volume follows this one, but it already feels like the series has gone on too long.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #5

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 5 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

In her exile to the east of the east of the east, Liselotte’s rambunctious house attempts to coexist with the witch’s forest. Hoping to break down the seal Vergue has cast, Anna ventures out on her own to pay the witch a visit. Despite a being hurt by humans in the past, can Anna convince Vergue to give people another chance, and to live among them again? Meanwhile, Lise is shocked by a familiar looking visitor surveying the nearby village.

The Review

In Takaya-sensei’s previous series Fruits Basket, there were a lot of antics and silly interactions, but once you got to know the characters, you discovered each one carried deep trauma. If you enjoy that sort of story, you can eat your heart out in Volume 5 of Liselotte and Witch’s Forest. The previous couple volumes delved into Liz’s tragic past, and now we shift to the rest of the cast, starting with En.

Given his memory loss, he doesn’t have much past to dwell on. The bits he retains suggest a desperate existence before he entered the Berenk household. However, his current circumstances aren’t particularly ideal either, as an interaction with the Eiche spirit reminds us. This is the first time we really get to delve into En’s thoughts, and there’s dark humor in his blunt assessment of Liz and his utter incomprehension of why he was so devoted to her.

Next up are Anna and Vergue. Liz is determined to befriend Vergue despite his attack on the house and repeated rejections, but interestingly, she’s not the one to crack through Vergue’s shell. On the surface, ever-smiling Anna doesn’t have anything in common with the irritable male witch. However, she recognizes the similarities they bear, and when she tells Vergue about the upbringing she and Alto suffered, it’s a confession, a rebuke, and an invitation for him to strive for something better.

The POV then switches from Anna to Vergue. We don’t get as many details on his wretched past but like the twins and Liz, he suffered undeservedly when he was a human. However, Anna’s words do impact him, and it shows in his actions, even if his speech and manner remain prickly as ever.

The focus then returns to the main character with Liz hearing about Heil Village’s spring festival. While it is strange how Liz’s companions unanimously encourage her to see it, the trip there gives Liz and En a chance to be alone. It also allows Liz to cross paths with Richard, the brother that exiled her. Liz’s guilt at seeing her brother isn’t too surprising, but what is surprising is En’s displeasure over the situation, especially since he’s lost his memories of Richard. If a visit from the regional lord isn’t enough, Woglinde, the true witch of the frontier forest, also returns home. With so many powerful characters in Heil Village, I’m anticipating something big in the works.

Extras include four illustrations in full color, story-thus-far, character line-up, and embedded author’s notes.

In Summary

If you like characters who bear the scars of abuse and rejection, you will have much to enjoy in this volume. If you prefer lovey-dovey moments, you’ll find a beautifully illustrated romantic scene between Liz and En, although En’s behavior is somewhat perplexing given his evaluation of Liz in the volume’s opening pages. There’s not much brawling in these pages, but with the arrival of Liz’s brother and the return of the witch Woglinde, the stage seems to be preparing for something big.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #4

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 4 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

Liselotte’s house in the east of the east of the east has become even livelier with the additions of the witch Hilde and her familiar, Myrte. But one day, Vergue, a witch who hates all humans, attacks the household to drive Lise and the others away! Why is it so difficult to live a peaceful life?

The Review

Till now, little information has been given about the place in which the characters reside. Now we learn that The Land East of the East of the East is part of Erstes, a country that once achieved military victory with the help of witches. Considering it’s already Volume 4, these basic details about Erstes are late in coming, plus the way they’re presented (in the form of a schoolchildren’s lesson) is rather heavy-handed. However, they do give us a clearer picture of the society from which Liz has been exiled.

This provides a good place to introduce our next new character. Captain Erwin is head of the frontier outpost near the witch’s forest. However, he’s originally from the capital where he served Liz’s brother. He not only monitors Liz’s activities but seems aware of the true circumstances behind her banishment. He also has his own power when it comes to witches. Despite the lazy front he puts up, he is definitely not an ordinary human, and given his complicated background, he’s likely to get into the thick of Liz and Engetsu’s future affairs.

In the meantime, Liz continues to bravely strive forward in her hinterlands life. For fans of Fruits Basket, Liz is definitely a Tohru-type heroine: a cheerful dimwit who remains intensely positive despite the tragedies in her life. She’s also able to connect with social outcasts, as evidenced by the six people now living in her house. Now that Hilde and Myrte are part of the family, it’s almost a given that Liz will find a way to draw Vergue in, despite his violent efforts to drive her away.

As for the romantic arc between Liz and En, there are a couple poignant moments between the two, but overall, the mood is more comic than sweet. En without memories is sarcastic and blunt, which makes him a lot more interesting than when he was so unconditionally agreeable toward Liz. Judging from a brief interaction with Erwin, this new En is closer to his true personality and hints about a past I’m curious to learn more about.

Extras include four illustrations in full color, story-thus-far and character line-up, embedded author’s notes, translation notes, and a nine-page preview of Volume 5.

In Summary

This volume doesn’t so much move forward as it delves backward. Lessons, remembrances, and flashbacks provide a better understanding of the factors separating humans and witches and the circumstances that brought our characters where they are now. So aside from Vergue wrecking Liz’s house, not too much happens in these six chapters, but they fill in a lot of holes in the story.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: your name.

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now Yen On brings Shinkai’s your name. novel to English readers for a new perspective on the events of the movie.

Back cover Blurb

Mitsuha, a high school girl living in a rural town deep in the mountains, has a dream that she is a boy living an unfamiliar life in Tokyo. Taki, a high school boy living in Tokyo, dreams that he is a girl living in the mountains. As they realize they are changing places, their encounter sets the cogs of fate into motion.

The Review

Confession: As of the writing of this post, I have not seen the your name. movie.

Therefore, I am unable to draw any comparisons between the film and the novel. That doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with Makoto Shinkai’s work. His name got stamped into my otaku consciousness when Voices of a Distant Star came out, and since then, I’ve associated Shinkai with two things: breathtaking skies and the longing of separated lovers. While novels can’t provide dazzling visuals of the heavens, filmmaker Shinkai displays his mastery with words as he depicts the angst of his lead couple.

For those completely unacquainted with your name. that lead couple is comprised of two modern-day high school students, Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana. Mitsuha lives in the rural community of Itomori in her grandmother’s house. As the granddaughter of a Shinto priestess, Mitsuha’s life is steeped in tradition, but she’s dying to leave her tiny town for Tokyo. Taki lives in Tokyo and works part time at a fancy Italian restaurant. The two don’t know each other at all, but for some unknown reason, each starts dreaming about living the other’s life. Then they realize that they are actually switching bodies when they feel the consequences of the other person’s actions.

It’s a complicated set-up. That brings me to the one weakness of the light novel. It’s written in first person, and the viewpoint switches frequently and sometimes mid-scene between Mitsuha and Taki. If you don’t know the story involves body-switching, the first few pages can be really confusing. However, if you can get through that hurdle, the rest of the book is spectacular.

The cover flap touts the novel as “in turns funny, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching.” Sounds like a lot, but Shinkai actually delivers on all fronts. The comedy comes as a natural outgrowth of the circumstances Shinkai has laid out. In addition to the awkwardness of inhabiting a body of the opposite gender, there’s also city-versus-country humor, and I did literally laugh out loud in places. The heartwarming part comes as the two start appreciating the experiences of the other, and then hearts get wrenched when the swaps stop and Taki goes in search of Mitsuha armed with nothing but his hand-drawn sketches of Itomori’s scenery.

So the guy goes, finds the girl, and they live happily ever after, right? Not exactly. Shinkai throws in a couple major twists that turns Taki’s efforts to find the girl into a desperate quest to save the girl. It’s a dramatic shift in tone from the first chapters of the book, yet it works. Thanks to the groundwork laid by Mitsuha’s  shrine maiden duties and Grandma Miyamizu’s explanations of the family’s traditions, readers are easily carried along as the supernatural aspect goes from a comical glitch between two individuals to something much bigger.

But even as forces push Mitsuha and Taki together toward a seemingly cosmic goal, other factors tug them apart. From the onset, the memories of their body switches are hazy. It’s only when they find workarounds to communicate that they are able to get a sense of each other. However, once the swaps stop, the precious knowledge they’ve gained starts to evaporate from their minds. Shinkai does an amazing job with these scenes, making the agony of those disappearing memories worse than the pain of separation.

In addition to the breadth and intensity of emotion, Shinkai skillfully weaves in foreshadowing and symbolism, and he interconnects the details of events and characters in seamless fashion. Some nuances of the story do require knowledge of Japanese culture, but the book does not contain a cultural notes section. However, even if you’re unaware of the significance of the “red thread of fate,” you can still appreciate the role that Mitsuha’s hair cord plays in connecting our main characters.

By the way, even though I haven’t seen the movie, my husband saw it on his last flight to Asia (thank you, All Nippon Airways). Once he got home, he dived into the book. As for me, I’ve really got to see the film…

Extras include an afterword from the author and a short essay from Genki Kawamura, who produced the your name. movie.

In summary

Over a decade ago, Makoto Shinkai wowed me with his filmmaking; now he wows me with his writing. your name. is about lovers brought together by fate, but it’s much more than a romance. The story incorporates goofy humor, reflections on the fragility of human memory, and a heart-pounding, race-against-time to thwart disaster. And the amazing thing is that it all works. Hats off to Shinkai!

First published at The Fandom Post.